Responding to requests regarding prayer and religious ceremonies by patients near the end of life and their families

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Palliative Medicine








Prayer and religious ceremonies may help patients near the end of life and their relatives find comfort and discover meaning in their lives. In this paper, we analyze how physicians might respond in two situations regarding prayer and religious ceremonies. First, how should physicians respond when such patients or their families ask physicians to pray for them or with them? Physicians' responses to such requests will depend on their own religious and spiritual beliefs, the congruence of their beliefs with those of the patient and family, and their relationship with the patient. Many physicians may be willing to be present and stand silently while the patient prays. Second, how should physicians respond when such patients and families seek to carry out their religious and spiritual practices in the hospital? Religious ceremonies can provide meaning, hope, and solace to patients and families. Institutional guidelines regarding religious ceremonies should allow as much leeway as is compatible with good care both for the patient for whom the ritual is offered and also for other patients within the facility. Physicians should inquire whether there are religious and spiritual practices that patients and families would like to engage in. However, physicians should be cautious about recommending specific ceremonies or pratices. Physicians can respond to requests and respect patients' spiritual needs in ways that may deepen the therapeutic doctor-patient relationship, without compromising their own religious and spiritual beliefs or professional roles.